Monthly Archives: April 2010

Discernment Tool: Sound as Touch

Let us look more closely at the act of discernment, the act of prayerful decision-making. When we are in discernment we note what in the “outside” world touches our interior world. That is to say, what touches our hearts, our mind, our hands. We pay attention to these movements. We become acutely aware. I propose in order to discern well we become aware of the stories we speak. We become intentional with our words. Words are touch. Sound is touch. Sound moves across radio waves and across air and space, sound is energy. Our words affect our energy. Discernment is noticing what brings you life, or energy, and what drains your energy.

Genesis and the Gospel of John begin with word, with sound, and with intentionality.

Genesis:

1 In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw how good the light was.

The Gospel of John continues this beginning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

God did not say I think there will be light, God said let there be light and with that there was light. God is intentional. God uses the present tense in Genesis to create light. What if we start to consider our words, our sounds we utter as touch? Would we not be more intentional, more careful with how we use our sounds? Would we note our breath more and where it moves in our body and where the blockages are? Might we be more compassionate with others and ourselves?

Our energy moves through us with our breath just as the wind moves through the trees.  When we discern where we are called we note our energy, our breath around the two goods we are discerning. Perhaps we might take notice of our breath when we speak about a topic. What stories are you telling yourself? Are they helpful? How do you speak about what you are prayerfully considering? Note the intonation you use when you speak. What tense are you using? Future? Present? Passive voice? Past? If you were to change the tense you speak about your matters of the heart does it change your perspective? Your energy? Try it.

Know thyself. This is at the heart of discernment. To know thyself. The more you know you, the more you can be in relationship with others. The more you can know others. The more you can offer to the world. Discernment is tuning into oneself and noting your energy and where it calls you to act with what Paul’s letter to the Galatians calls the fruits of the spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

In joy and active discernment,

Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ‘93

Claiming Connection: Finding Family, Hope and Faith with a Man who Committed Murder

Oshea Israel shares his story

Oshea Israel shares his story

On Saturday, April 17, I sat in the living room of St. Jane House in North Minneapolis and listened to Oshea Israel tell his story of what shaped him as a young man who committed murder at the age of 17. Seated next to him were his brother and mother, and present across the room was a grandmother. None of these people were biologically, blood-related, but all claimed him in the fullest sense of familial relationship. Included in this configuration of chosen kinfolk was Oshea’s dearest male alliance — someone who shared the experiences of incarceration and an aligned sort of upbringing; a Visitation Sister on the day before her 82 birthday – who had only recently adopted Oshea as grandson; and then the most-staggering of all maternal figures: the mother of the son whose life Oshea took 17 years prior. In the wake of Mary Johnson losing her own male child, she found the space and grace and God-given ability – during the time after his murder – to genuinely forgive this boy who killed her son, and then claim the murderer as her own heir.

It was an experience nothing short of mind-blowing.

Family: Mary Johnson and sons

Family: Mary Johnson and sons

What makes us family?
What calls us to radical spaces of love and forgiveness?
How many of us find ourselves in close proximity to murderers and former felons and forgivers?
How do we locate ourselves inside such circles?
Who among us claims such alliances? And why?

By the end of the afternoon, I found myself kissing Oshea’s cheeks, squeezing him in solidarity and support, and marveling about what, if anything – save experience – separates us? He could be my brother. He could be my cousin. He could be me. Yes. Or rather,  I can fathom being him.

I don’t write such things lightly. But listening to Oshea’s narrative, honoring intensely an interrogated past, I find myself completely humbled by his courageous examination of what has shaped him. In this space, on this particular Saturday in April, I have the privilege to hear him disclose such a tale as he pours out details about what gave way to birthing this murderous mentality. And I get him. I can hear him. I can fathom all that he reports about his loving biological mom;  a nurturing, present step-father; and a desired alliance with his often absent, distant dad. I quake with compassion as he confesses the tiny but gigantic detail that gives rise, in his recollection, to a desire to kill when he was only five.

Sr. Mary Margaret and Oshea: Grandmother, Grandson

Sr. Mary Margaret and Oshea: Grandmother, Grandson

Oshea shares the significant moment when he overheard his mom state that she was raped by her own father. He identifies that at that point in time he knew he wanted to kill, and would kill. He reflects on the choices he started to make from that tender age onward, giving rise and shape to an identity as “fighter” as “boy capable of murder.”  He is conscious and takes responsibility for this journey that lead to another young man’s death. Oshea also recognizes and knows that this is not his true identity. He has the wisdom and faith and courage and humility to claim that he has a soul larger than this horrible crime, but knows he is loved and has love, is love, and has a Divine purpose transcending this experience.

I marvel listening to Oshea. I am in this privileged space where I find an alliance and deep resonance with this man’s tale. I have deep regard for him, am humbled by his narrative, am proud of his capacity to receive forgiveness and to reject this label that reduces him to one of his darkest moments. Oshea Israel inspires me.

Aligned in prayer

Aligned in prayer

I think that if Oshea Israel can transcend label as “murderer,”  then what can I overcome? What are my darkest moments in this life to date? What do I shake from my skin and bones and refuse to let define me as a 41 year old woman? I return to Oshea and see his beaming smile, feel his large spirit and seemingly boundless hope for the future, and I claim a similar kind of faith. He is loved. I am loved. We are love. We are one in God’s creation.

I don’t think these experiences or opportunities to sit in the presence of “the other” – a former felon or convicted killer or simply someone seemingly so different  – come often for many of us.  I imagine or speculate that what I’m sharing might seem beyond the comfort zone of many. But I can’t be sure. I just know for me, the opportunity to be invited to such a space with the Visitation Sisters, at St. Jane House, to convene with compassionate inquiry and active listening guiding the day, is a privilege — as it takes me to these further spaces of reflection and awareness of God’s grace, love, mercy. I begin to see more distinctly our inherently inter-connected natures. I find myself alive in love and wonder. I want to support Oshea in his journey beyond jail, in his walk as a man of integrity, examined life, of forgiveness, of incredible wisdom and witness to Love. I want to be similar in my own trek on this planet: also inspiring and living a radical kind of loving existence.

Embracing one another

Embracing one another

If I shirk my darkest moments of reductive identity markers, and claim the beloved nature of my soul, then what might I be capable of as a member of this human race? Who might I be as a woman? As a wife? As a mother? As a teacher? What might I inspire or have the courage to do? Who am I in this present moment?

I extend these questions to each of you prayerfully on this day. I invite you to reflect on your darkest moments, to see your most beautiful selves, as the Divine sees us all. I urge you to open any closed spaces where you might reject or fear an invitation to experience life beyond your comfort zone. I encourage you to come and hear Oshea and Mary speak, and listen deeply to the way their story shapes or inspires your own.

In prayer, contemplation, love,
Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
Visitation Companion

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

As we wind down this day, I extend my thoughts and prayers with people all over the world praying intentionally for vocations. I’m holding Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC’s words in my heart. On this fourth sunday of Easter, marking the 47th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Executive Director of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), Brother Bednarczyk writes:

“let us remember to pray for an openness of men and women to respond to God’s loving call to priesthood and the consecrated life.”

cross-in-handsOn behalf of the Visitation Sisters, the lay members of this community known as the Visitation Companions, and our Vocations team, I invite all men and women, of all different faith traditions, to pray. To listen to their hearts. To listen to the world around them. To be open to the way that circumstances speak, and the Divine calls them. I invite all those we are in relationship with to spend a moment of intentional reflection looking at how they have been moved beyond their comfort zones to enter into a radical silence and witness to God’s love and grace. I invite all who read this to celebrate their station in life and contemplate the questions, “What else? What next? What do you want of me God?”

I invite all who read this to celebrate their station in life and contemplate the questions, “What else? What next? What do you want of me God?”

In peace, prayers, contemplation, solidarity,
Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
Visitation Companion

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For more information about Vocations:

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is launching a new website for vocations on this day. ‘ForYourVocation.org’ offers resources for people in discernment, includes info for parents, teachers, catechists, vocation directors. Efforts respond to Pope Benedict XVI’s call to use social media http://www.foryourvocation.org/

Springtime Seeds: A Meditation

As the Sisters plant their springtime seeds. So do we symbolically. We plant the seeds we wish to nourish as springtime rains, birds and bees begin to cross-pollinate. We plant dreams we hope to thrive in the bounty of summer, in our life as we grow into who we are each called to become.

Sometimes we even plant seeds that no longer help us as people. Perhaps they were planted long ago by a childhood hurt, or subconsciously planted by the anger we harbor or a grudge we have not let go. These seeds become weeds in our garden of life and if we are not careful they will thrive, cutting the nutritious plants out.

“God has imprinted on all created things His traces, trails, and footsteps.” -St. Francis de Sales

Close your eyes and imagine your garden, your plot of dirt. Crouch down to look at the dirt closely with your hands, pick some up, notice its color, its texture. Is it dark, fertile, moist, teeming with earthworms? Is it brittle, dry, thirsty? Is it rocky in need of toiling? Is it soft and ready for planting?

Now notice the rows of seeds, what is planted in your garden? What dreams lay dormant waiting for the rains to come so they

Sowing what gives us life, unearthing the soil.

Sowing what gives us life, unearthing the soil.

may thrive? How do you actively wait for these seeds to grow, for waiting is not a passive activity? What seeds of hope are planted here? What seeds of sorrow in need of healing and forgiveness are planted? Do you see any seeds that will give ways to weeds? If so, what are those seeds about? How might you work to uproot them before they take a stronger hold on you? What might you do to prune that which no longer brings you life? These weeds needn’t control you; you may always choose change by recognizing old patterns and making a mindful effort to change the direction of them. You can always choose that which gives you life, and nourish the seeds that yield nutrition for your soul, heart, and hands. What colors are in your garden? Shapes? Textures?

As you kneel before your garden offer an impromptu prayer up to God to help you with your springtime garden. A prayer of gratitude perhaps for the seeds of change, of nourishment, and even the seeds of the weeds we wish to let go of this season. Now slowly stand up and look over all you and God have planted.

Amen.

Happy Earth Day!

Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93

Earth Day Vow Renewal: A Humble Aligning with Christ

Sr. Joanna O'Meara, Contemplative, Poet, Woman of Prayer

Renewing Vows: Contemplative Gardener, Poet, Sister: Joanna O'Meara, VHM

by Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

This is a very special week in our community. On April 22, in the intimacy of our community prayer, and with an expansive heart, Sr. Joanna O’Meara will renew her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in our 400 year old Visitation Order as a member of our Minneapolis monastery.  Her renewal aptly coincides with the 40th anniversary of EARTH DAY.  I say “aptly” because “humus”, Latin for “earth”, is also the root  of “humility”, a key word in describing the spirit of our Visitation Order.

The spirit of the Visitation is a spirit of profound humility towards God and of great gentleness toward our neighbor.” – St. Francis de Sales, co-founder of the Visitation Sisters

What is it about working with and in the earth that fosters humility?  Is it the mystery that turning the soil, adding the fertilizer, planting the seeds, watering and caring for the tender plants, is an act that says, “this growth is out of our control? “    We know that we have a place in creating the environment for growth, but we hand over the results to the creative love of our God.  That is an act of humility!

Garden SaturdaySr. Joanna loves to work in the garden. Before leaving for her 8-day retreat in preparation for her renewal of vows, she planted the broccoli, green beans and snow peas. It was a bit risky to plant this early in Minnesota’s growing season, but our early Spring gave her confidence!  Now she is taking this time apart to be with Jesus, whom we are told is “gentle and humble of heart” and “who gives rest for our souls and keeps our burdens light.”  (Mt 11:29 )

This kind of trust is pretty EARTHY!   And risky!  To seek to live a simple life style (poverty); choosing to express love in meaningful celibate ways (celibacy); while listening to God’s will in community rather than making one’s own decisions (obedience) is to say with one’s life, “I believe in and trust your love and care for me, my God.”   This is also an expression of humility: knowing one’s place with God in the world—one of confident dependence and active planting the seeds of  God’s love and mercy that the reign of God may grow.

To seek to live a simple life style (poverty); choosing to express love in meaningful celibate ways (celibacy); while listening to God’s will in community rather than making one’s own decisions (obedience) is to say with one’s life, “I believe in and trust your love and care for me, my God.”   This is also an expression of humility: knowing one’s place with God in the world—one of confident dependence and active planting the seeds of  God’s love and mercy that the reign of God may grow. – Sr. Karen Mohan, VHM

Earth Day fosters gentleness and creative care of the good earth.  Vow Renewal  expresses one’s complete trust in God and desire to creatively plant the love of Jesus in our world by listening to the Holy Spirit in community and in solitude, so that one’s gifts may be used and one’s weaknesses may not get in the way of God at work in others’ hearts.

Sr. Joanna joins Visitation Sisters all over the world in planting the life of God on our sacred, vulnerable earth, by  “living Jesus”, our motto.  In witnessing with her Sisters – and with all those committed to Gospel living – she gives testimony to the  love that  lasts forever.

On earth as it is in heaven”:

Her commitment makes her every day an EARTH DAY, and every encounter with the people of God an opportunity to follow the earthy (humble) Jesus who sets our hearts free.

Snapshots from the Sisters: Title this!

Earlier this week, Sr. Joanna sent the following picture for this blog feature, “Snapshots from the Sisters” — where we post recent images from the Vis Monastery in North Minneapolis. Care to title this? We welcome your words!

Care to title this image of Sr. Mary Frances and a child from the neighborhood?

Care to title this image of Sr. Mary Frances and a child from the neighborhood?

Little Virtues–the way toward holiness

St Francis de Sales

St Francis de Sales

St. Francis saw a sure yet simple path toward holiness, through the “little virtues” of  patience, humility, gentleness, simplicity, honesty, and hospitality lived out in your ordinary, daily life of “being who you are and being that perfectly well.” Below are some prayerful questions for your own reflection.

  • How do you practice patience in your daily life? With your significant other? With yourself? With your children? Your neighbor? With your calling?
  • How are you called to humility? When you are at work? At home? During leisure?
  • Where will you respond with gentleness? When you are tempted to use force, might a gentle approach get you further?
  • How might you live more simply? Are there things you can let go of to bring you closer to those you love? An addiction? Or a desire to always work? How does living in community or communion with others allow you to live more simply?
  • Is there a situation where you might be more honest? Are you holding your truth back? If so, why? Might honesty free you and others in the situation at hand? Sometimes when you deny a truth it comes out in your body, an ache, an illness an attitude?
  • How do you extend hospitality to others? Your family? Your parents? Your friends? your neighbor? The sick? The lonely? The homeless? How do you receive hospitality in your life from others?

“Have only a pure, simple, peaceful longing to please God; this will lead you to act without fear and with peace and gentleness.” -St. Francis de Sales

In closing I offer a prayer from Mother Teresa of Calcutta that seems to weave these little virtues so eloquently together:

“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. … You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”

As you take time to reflect on these little virtues, might you have a way of practicing them that you wish to share with the readers of this blog? Or your own prayerful questions? If so, we welcome your prayer in action on your own road to holiness. Please share your comment below.

Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan,
Visitation Alumna ’93

Rainstorm Prayers and Meditation

"...remain alone in the presense of God." - Francis de Sales

"...remain alone in the presence of God." - Francis de Sales

Did you hear the rain last night? Who among you experienced the lightning and thunder?

Around 4am I was awoken by the intense rumbling of the sky. Of course I didn’t know at first it was an imminently threatening storm. I thought perhaps someone was breaking in to my home. When I realized that the door’s lock must be intact, I sleepily wondered if my husband’s snoring had the ability to rattle our roof. But it was a thunder storm: a glorious Spring shower about to be released onto the earth! And I was happy. All the cells in my body were joyous as I woke to experience this season’s first sort of rainstorm blessings. The six windows wrapping the walls of my room were suddenly alight with the early morning sky’s electricity. Our white curtains swirled as the storming air came in through an open window and made the room alive with a gloriously cool gust, breeze – and these spirited sheets! I opened not only my eyes to the red-orange-fire-lightning of the black sky, but my ears to the crack and clap of the accompanying thunder. And I waited. I held my breath. And then I giggled in sweet celebration when the rain drops started to fall. SPRING! NEW LIFE! ABUNDANCE! A STORM!

“…remain alone in the presence of God. This is what King David did throughout his many cares, and we find him in the psalms continually exclaiming, “My God, you are ever before me! The Lord is ever on my right hand! To you, O Lord, I lift up my eyes! O You who dwell in the heavens. My eyes are always looking to you, Lord!” – From the “Wisdom of Saint Francis de Sales”

What is it about a thunderstorm, an electrical storm, a rainstorm in mid-April? What was it about this experience at 4am this morning that compels me to write about it so many hours later?

The little kid in me used to quake at such thunder claps. The adult in me relishes such moments, though. What gives? All I can think is how taking stock of such moments is akin to taking stock of the power inherently conveyed by Nature, by God. Like a child held in a space of fear – or trembling – or awe – when the storm sets in, I find myself small again, yet joyous in recognizing the wonder that is rain falling in Spring. I sing to myself: “And with this, things will grow.”

“…taking stock of such moments is akin to taking stock of the power inherently conveyed by Nature, by God. Like a child held in a space of fear – or trembling – or awe – when the storm sets in, I find myself small again, yet joyous in recognizing the wonder that is rain falling in Spring. I sing to myself: “And with this, things will grow.” – Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

***

Rain in Ghana

"to be 'watered" - to be baptized, to be 'made anew'"

We set out a few short months ago on an official quest for seven more women to join us, as visionary and prayerful presences professing a life of love and devotion in North Minneapolis. I think at 4am, in the midst of the rain storms, I’m reminded that God’s got this all. The Divine holds our intentions, as a Vocations Team, as humans, and helps us all eek along in our journeys, in our desire to be “watered” – to be baptized, to be “made anew” – through such Spring reminders as rainstorms at dawn. God knows about these seven women who we are calling to be among us. We are like soil, for now, preparing the earth of our hearts for what will be planted by these discerning women, and watered by the Divine. We wake in awe at the wonder of it all. We are alive in the mystery of the universe’s elements, trusting that these moments of storm are akin to the power of creation stirring and inspiring seven others.

We trust. We smile. We hope. We celebrate. We pray.

Do you hear me? Are you with me in prayer? Did you hear or see that rainstorm last night?

In gratitude and contemplation,
Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
Visitation Companion

Not for School, but for Life.

Sisters Karen Mohan, VHM, Susan Marie Kasprzak, VHM, and Katherine Mullin, VHM with the 2010 NCEA Religious Community Award

Sisters Karen Mohan, VHM, Susan Marie Kasprzak, VHM, and Katherine Mullin, VHM with the 2010 NCEA Religious Community Award (Click for more info.)

“Honey, oh honey, come down with me and get yourself a banana, ” it was the seventh grade, and this is how I was greeted each morning after getting off the bus at 7:30 am. Somehow Sister Marie Therese, more endearingly referred to as Sister Honey, knew I probably had not eaten breakfast. More importantly, she knew a little extra TLC would go far for me. I had just entered The Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights having transferred from the parochial school I attended wanting to follow in my older sisters footsteps, and my parents were in the midst of a divorce. This enclave, of a small school environment geared toward young women, was where I would thrive. Not only because the academics were challenging enough to engage a young mind and keep it curious, but also because the sisters added the humanistic touch to educating not only the mind, but the heart as well.

In eighth grade I often had detention for chewing gum and not tucking my shirt in, so almost every lunch period I would help Sister Honey clear plates into the trash. I became a regular helper, and they gave me my own apron. We mutually looked forward to the time spent together. I learned how to do work joyfully from the Sisters, and at the end of the year my teacher, Mrs. Harvey, who gave me my daily detentions, said, “I was the most joyous worker she’d encountered,” and baked me cookies. Rewarding trouble? Perhaps. But Mrs. Harvey saw beyond the detentions to the value that was being instilled in me, joy.

Through my six years of formal education at the Visitation I came to intimately know the Sisters. When Sr. Katherine left the Convent of the Visitation in Mendota Heights to join the Monastery in North Minneapolis her departure brought with her an invitation to all at the Mendota Heights Visitation—an invitation to expand the horizons and the education. Sr. Katherine and the Sisters of North Minneapolis remain educators. Sure it is not in the formal sense of four walls, nor in the classic sense of Shakespeare, but it is in the real sense of what St. Jane de Chantal advocated, “Live simply, so that others may simply live.”

It is through their actions, through their post, that the Sisters of North Minneapolis remain educators of the mind and the hearts of young people. Their presence of hospitality teaches tolerance, as all are welcome who ring their doorbell. – Beth Eilers Sullivan, Vis Alumna, ’93

It is through their actions, through their post, that the Sisters of North Minneapolis remain educators of the mind and the hearts of young people. Their presence of hospitality teaches tolerance, as all are welcome who ring their doorbell. Their resourcefulness of finding suits for those about to go on a job interview, black dresses for those about to attend a family funeral, prayers for those who need them teaches resilience and hope. Their joyful spirit that celebrates birthdays of children in the neighborhood, graduations, and welcome home celebrations from those getting out of prison teaches the utmost value: love of self, God and others, which allows for the healing of violence in the neighborhood.  These Sisters have taken the value of a Visitation Education offered at the college preparatory schools across the nation and brought it to those who might never have access to it. The Sisters also bring with them the Mendota Heights Visitation Community who might never have access to the North Minneapolis neighbors. It is this bridge that brings the whole of the Visitation together! St. Jane de Chantal’s quote that

Brother Andrew Kieran, 13 months, learning gentle strength while we do "So big!..."

Brother Andrew Kieran, 13 months, learning gentle strength while we do "So big!..."

hung on the stairwell in the Mendota Heights Visitation sang: “There is nothing as strong as real gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.” This value is alive and well at the North Minneapolis Visitation. This is a value I pass intentionally on to my three boys, when they learn “So big!” as babies, we follow it with “So strong,” and flex the muscles, and then end it with, “So gentle,” and pretend to rock a baby in our arms. These women continue to feed me perhaps not with a breakfast of bananas, but with the legacy of Salesian Spirituality they instilled in me.

“There is nothing as strong as real gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Please join me in my heartfelt thanks for the Visitation Sisters’ commitment to education no matter what form it takes, these dedicated women are educators of the heart, the mind, and the spirit. Might you be one of these dedicated women or know one? After all, it is an education that is not for School, but truly for Life, and I for one am grateful to them!

Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, A proud Visitation Alumna ’93

“Snapshots from the Sisters:” Pictures Speaking 1,000+ Words!

Beloved Blog Readers,

Welcome to the “Snapshots from the Sisters” blog entry!  As a way to provide sweet portals into the Vis Sisters’ rich lives in North Minneapolis, we are introducing this new blog post that will consist of simple snapshots (that one of the nuns has taken during the week), along with brief commentary or caption.  We invite you to participate in this viewing, by submitting a possible title or caption to the picture below!

Our first photo is….

Care to Caption this?  Left to Right: Sr. Katherine; Vis Companion, Nancy Downey; Sr. Suzanne

Care to caption this? Submit your ideas below in the comment section! (Left to Right: Sr. Katherine; Vis Companion Nancy Downey; Sr. Suzanne)

On behalf of the Vis bloggers, “Easter blessings!!

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde
Vis Companion